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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                   {45
at the corners of his inflamed eyes continuously throbbed.
On the evening round he looked shrunken and percepti-
bly aged. In a low voice, he reproved the ward maid
for leaving a duster on the door handle, looked at the
Commissar's temperature chart, prescribed something for
him and walked out silently, followed by his also silent
and disturbed-looking retinue. At the threshold he
stumbled and would have fallen had not somebody
caught him by the elbow. It seemed entirely out of place
for this tall, heavy, hoarse-voiced, boisterous martinet to
be so quiet and polite. The inmates of ward forty-two
followed him out with wondering eyes. They had all
learned to love this big, kind-hearted man, and the
change in him disquieted them.
Next morning they learned the reason. Vasily
Vasilyevich's only son, whose name was likewise Vasily
Vasilyevich, who was also a medical man and a promis-
ing scientist, his father's pride and joy, was killed on the
Western Front. At the usual hour the entire hospital
waited with bated breath to see whether the professor
would arrive for his customary round of the wards. In
ward forty-two everybody closely watched the slow,
almost imperceptible movement of the sunbeam across
the floor. At last it touched the spot where the piece of
parqueting was missing and they all glanced at each
other as if saying he will not come. But at that very
moment the familiar heavy tread and the footsteps of
the numerous retinue were heard in the corridor. The
professor even looked a little better. True, his eyes were
inflamed and the eyelids and nose were swollen, as
happens when one has a severe cold, and his puffy, peel-
ing hands trembled noticeably when he picked the
Commissar's temperature chart up from the table; but he
was as energetic and business-like as ever. His boisterous-
ness and raillery had vanished, however.
As if by common agreement, the wounded and sick
vied with each other that day to please him in every
way they could. Everybody assured him that they felt
better, even the severest cases made no complaint and
averred that they were on the road to recovery. And
everybody zealously praised the arrangements in the
hospital and testified to the positively miraculous effect